“Please Aunt Ruby!” Emma said, looking up at her mother’s best friend with pleading eyes. “Please don’t stop me! I promise I’ll be home for the ball tonight, but I just…I need a little space or I’m going to go crazy!”
Emma should have known it would be impossible to sneak out of her parent’s castle when her aunt was visiting. The woman was a werewolf, after all. She could hear a pin drop from a mile away.
“Emma…” Ruby said, her beautiful brown eyes looking troubled.
“Please!” Emma tried again. “I know how important this ball is. I know I have to do my duty by my country and find a man to marry, and I’ll do it. I promise. I just…I just need one day, one day to myself before I have to play the dutiful daughter and princess.”
Ruby took a step forward and placed a comforting hand on Emma’s shoulder. “Emma, I know you’ve been under a lot of pressure lately with the Evil Queen threatening the kingdom again and your father’s council recommending a marriage alliance with a neighboring kingdom as our best hope, but your parents love you, and they know how important True Love is in a relationship. You know they won’t force you into a marriage you don’t want, don’t you?”
Emma dropped her eyes. “Yes, I know,” she said in a small voice, “I know that if I refused to marry, they’d support me, but I also know that we can’t let the Evil Queen take back power. If I make a good match, we’ll have a strong ally on our side, and the kingdom needs that. I’ll do my duty as princess. I just need one day to be an ordinary person. Just Emma, not the princess, not the kingdom’s savior, just Emma. I swear to you I’ll be back in plenty of time to prepare for the ball.”
Ruby stood still, merely looking at her for another moment, and then finally nodded. “Okay, Emma. I’ll keep your secret.”
Emma impulsively hugged her aunt. “Thank you! I’ll be back before you know it!”
Emma settled on the wooden bench on the docks, exhaustion settling over her. It was a busy day in port, people from all over coming in for the ball, others milling around the docks and peddling their wares, yet still there was something about the sea, about looking at the horizon over the waves that calmed Emma. It always had.
And with her day as “just Emma” drawing closer and closer to a close, Emma needed that calming influence more than ever. Dread pooled in the pit of her stomach as she thought about what awaited her. She knew what she had to do, but how could she make the decision to marry a man she barely knew? A man she may never learn to love? How could she agree to live with him as husband and wife? How could she…engage in the activities that would be necessary to produce the required heir to the throne?
Emma looked around at the common folk talking and laughing and hurrying through their day and felt a quick stab of jealousy. These people were free. They could marry whomever they wished, or remain single if they liked. They could order their lives according to their own wishes.
The guilt bubbled up at the thought. Emma had no reason to complain about her life. She’d grown up as a princess. Her parents loved her and doted on her. Her home had always been a place of joy and love and laughter. She couldn’t have hoped for a better upbringing.
Emma took a deep breath and shook her head slightly. Now wasn’t the time to dwell on it. Any of it. She still had a few hours before she had to return to the castle; she was determined to enjoy them.
To that end, Emma looked around, taking in the sights and sounds around her. In front of her sat a lovely ship in the nearest dock slip. The Jewel of the Realms was emblazoned on the side in ornate, golden letters. Emma watched as the sailors walked the gangplank and came ashore. The men seemed happy, eager for a bit of shore leave, yes, but it was clear their life aboard their ship was a pleasant one.
As Emma continued to watch, two officers emerged on deck—one with brown curls and laughing eyes, clearly the captain, and the other…
Emma felt all the breath leave her lungs in a whoosh. The other was beautiful, there was no other way to put it. His jet-black hair was pulled back into a neat queue at the nape of his neck, his bright blue eyes were as deep as the sea. But it wasn’t his beauty that made her heart stutter and then race. She’d seen plenty of handsome men in her day, it was something else. Something she couldn’t explain. It was as though she felt something tethering her to this man, something drawing them together.
It was like her heart knew it had finally found its missing piece.
It was ridiculous, of course, Emma knew that. There was no such thing as love at first site, no such thing as soulmates—at least for most people. At least for her.
The lieutenant suddenly looked around, his blue eyes making contact with her green ones. She should look away, she really should. His gaze was too mesmerizing, too intense. There was shock, and something akin to wonder in his eyes as they bore into hers, and it was almost too much, almost more than she could bear.
But try as she might, Emma couldn’t look away. What was wrong with her?
Suddenly the bench beside her sagged.
“Well now, what have we here, Claude,” a large, dirty man leered as he took a seat on the bench beside Emma. “Looks like someone in need of a little companionship.”
Emma recoiled at the stench that surrounded him like a cloud, at the feral look in his eyes, at the sheer breadth and size of him. Her heart began pounding once again; this time for an entirely different reason than it had when she’d spotted the lieutenant. She jumped to her feet. “I must be going,” she stammered, “I…I don’t need any companionship.”
Emma took a step back, but her exit was suddenly blocked by a second man, as big and malodorous as the first. Large, beefy arms came around her from behind, trapping her own arms at her side. Emma struggled as the fear began to surge. But if anything, her struggles only caused the giant at her back to increase his strangle hold as the man on the bench got to his feet and began stalking toward her.
“Kinda rude to run away from a bloke when we’re just getting to know each other,” the man said, menacing gleam in his eyes. “And believe me, my young tart, you and I are about to get to know each other quite well.”
The adrenaline surged, and Emma fought back, kicking out, managing to strike the man in the shins. He roared, as he rushed toward her, taking her face in a bruising grip, clearly intending to attack her with a very unwanted kiss.
“Unhand the lady!” came a sudden, lilting British accent. “Unhand her, or my sword goes through your heart!”
--As mentioned, this story was originally posted as part of my Fluffy Fridays series, so if it seems familiar, that might be why.
--Sorry for the bit of a cliff hanger there at the end, but the good thing about this story being complete is that you won’t have to wait long for a resolution. I plan to post a chapter each day.
Lieutenant Killian Jones of the Camelot navy stood on deck and watched as the busy port of Misthaven loomed ever closer. It was lovely in its own way, but Killian’s true love was the sea. He hoped that however this current diplomatic mission worked out, he would not be forced to give up his sailing adventures.
“We’ve made it, little brother,” Captain Liam Jones said, clapping a firm hand on Killian’s shoulder.
“Younger brother,” Killian corrected automatically, his eyes still scanning the harbor. “And so it seems we have. The men appear eager to go ashore.”
“Aye,” Liam said, looking around at the sailors finishing up the tasks necessary to safely bring a ship into port. They wore wide, delighted smiles as they worked. “Let us just hope we’re not called to break up any drunken brawls tonight like the last shore leave.”
Killian grinned. “I doubt there’s much fear of that. After the dressing down you gave all of them the last time, I’d wager they’ll be model patrons at any of the pubs they choose to frequent.”
Liam quirked a brow. “I should hope so. Tonight, after all, is quite important. We can’t afford to be called out to referee our men.”
Killian’s stomach dropped as the nerves took over. Liam did not exaggerate. Tonight was crucially important to their kingdom. Very important diplomatic ties between Misthaven and Camelot could be forged tonight, and the responsibility fell squarely on his shoulders. He’d no idea if he was up to the task, but the thought of letting his family, of letting his king down was simply unthinkable.
“Breathe, Killian,” Liam said, gently. “You are ready for this, and it could conceivably change your life in marvelous ways.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready for a change,” Killian muttered.
Liam squeezed his shoulder. “Perhaps a bit of time ashore will do you good as well, brother. Take a few hours; forget about what tonight entails. Just enjoy yourself.”
“Liam, I’m not sure. Perhaps I should stay aboard and prepare…”
He gasped, his words forgotten, all rational thought suddenly abandoning him as he saw her sitting on a bench along shore. She was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen, with her long, blonde hair like wavy strands of pure sunshine, pulled up at the sides, her sparkling green eyes, her simple peasant’s dress that did nothing to hide her slim, womanly figure. If ever he’d seen a goddess in the flesh, this woman was it.
Her eyes met his, and it was as though a bolt of lightning struck him, tethered him to her. He’d fancied comely lasses before, of course, but he’d never felt anything like this…like he’d come in to a cozy home after a lifetime out in the cold. He couldn’t tear his eyes from her if he wanted to.
“Nonsense, Killian,” Liam said, clearly unaware of the earthshattering moment his brother was having. “There’s nothing left to prepare. Go. Enjoy yourself.”
“Aye,” Killian said, absently, already moving toward the gangplank and toward the woman he simply must meet.
As Killian made his way off the Jewel, he noticed the two men approach his blonde woman. It took but a heartbeat to ascertain that their presence was very much unwanted, and Killian’s heart began to beat faster as he pushed his way through the crowd.
The woman got abruptly to her feet, backing away from the man who’d taken a seat beside her, but before she could make her exit, the second man grabbed her from behind. The first man stalked toward her, his intent clear. She fought back, but with her arms pinned by the second brute, she had little chance to defend herself.
Sudden, white-hot rage filled Killian, and he took the last few yards at a run, already pulling his sword from its sheath.
“Unhand the lady!” he said with a deadly calm voice as he placed the tip of his sword against the man’s back. “Unhand the lady or I’ll drive my sword through your heart!”
The man cursed, spinning around to face Killian as he reached for his own weapon. Killian was prepared. His sword against the brute’s chest before he’d even fully turned. For a moment the man glared at Killian defiantly, but finally he turned his head.
“Let the bitch go,” he muttered to his companion. “She ain’t worth dying over.”
Keeping one eye on the man he held at sword point, Killian watched as the companion did as he was bid, dropping his arms to his side. As soon as she was free, the woman spun on her heels, pulled back her fist and walloped her attacker with a punch that would have laid his best soldiers out. The man’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he crashed to the ground like a mighty oak tree in the forest.
Killian felt his admiration for this amazing woman grow by leaps and bounds as she shook her hand, giving the unconscious man a venomous glare and a kick from her tiny, dainty foot.
The remaining goon cursed her again under his breath, and Killian applied pressure to his sword, just enough to break the skin.
“That was not polite,” he growled. “Apologize to the lady.”
“Piss off,” the man said, glaring at him.
Killian pushed a little harder, relishing the man’s quick gasp of pain. “I’ll not ask a second time.”
The man looked recalcitrant for another moment, but then backed down. “I apologize for my behavior,” he said sullenly.
“Now get out of my sight before I decide to rethink my leniency.”
The man obeyed, hurrying off, muttering oaths under his breath the whole time. Killian watched him go for a moment before turning his attention back to the woman.
“Are you alright, lass?”
She brushed off her skirts, a look of annoyance in her eyes. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, looking up at him. “I could have handled it, you know. I’m capable of saving myself.”
“Aye, I can see that,” he answered with a gentle smile. “You’ve a quite impressive right hook, love. I however cannot stand by idly when a woman is in need, particularly when she’s ambushed from behind. Bad form and all that.”
“Perhaps I could have handled it on my own,” the woman conceded, smiling up at him as she took a step closer, “but thank you for your help, all the same.”
“It was my very great pleasure, Miss…?”
Killian watched as a flicker of indecision passed across her face. “Swan,” she said finally. You may call me Swan.”
“Curious name, love. Have you a given name to go with it?”
“I….” she began. “I think for the moment it’s best if you simply stick with Swan. It’s a nickname given to me by my father.”
“Well Swan,” Killian said with a neat, precise bow, “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Lieutenant Killian Jones at your service.”
Swan curtsied, allowing him to take her hand and brush a soft kiss along the back of it. Killian gasped as his lips touched her skin. There it was again, that strange electricity that bound them together. From the widening of her eyes, he’d swear she felt it as well.
“So Swan, might I have the pleasure of your company for the noonday meal? I find I’m rather loathe to bid you farewell quite yet.”
She smiled up at him, and to his delight nodded. “Lead the way, lieutenant.”
--So there you have it. Emma and Killian have met and worked together to defeat her attackers (they do, after all, make quite the team, lol). Now it’s time for them to share a meal and get to know each other better…to an extent, at least. Princess Emma, clearly doesn’t have any intention of letting the handsome stranger know who she really is.
“He sold you into slavery?” Emma gasped, looking with rounded eyes at Killian, seated across from her at the tavern. “What kind of father does a thing like that?!”
After she’d agreed to take the noon meal with Killian, he’d given her a courtly bow, offered his arm, and escorted her to a nearby tavern. She’d looked over the establishment with interest as soon as her eyes acclimated to the dark interior. As princess, she’d naturally never been in such a place, and she found the new surroundings exciting.
But not nearly as exciting as spending time with Lieutenant Killian Jones. He was brave, handsome and chivalrous. That much she’d been able to ascertain simply from her time with him on the docks, but as the afternoon wore on, she discovered he was so much more. He was funny, regaling her with story after story of his adventures with his brother, Liam, who he seemed to almost worship. He was perceptive, picking up on her most minute body language, knowing what she wished almost before she did herself. (“You’re something of an open book, love.”)
And best of all, he was interested in her, genuinely interested in her. He found her beautiful, that much was clear, but he also listened with interest as she spoke of her hopes and dreams. It was refreshing. How many times had men acted interested in her only later to reveal that what they were really interested in was her crown?
It was one reason Emma was careful, oh so very careful, not to reveal her true identity to Killian. When people knew…they changed, and Emma was afraid she’d crumble to pieces if Killian changed toward her.
It was ridiculous, really. At the end of this magical afternoon, she’d be forced to return to the castle and resume her life as the crown princess. She’d be forced to attend the ball, choose a suitable husband, marry, produce heirs and be the dutiful queen. After this afternoon, she’d never see Killian again, so what did it matter what he thought of her?
Emma felt her heart break a little just thinking of what was to come. True, she and Killian had only known each other for a matter of hours, but she felt connected to him in a way she’d never felt connected to anyone. It was easy with him. It was like talking to a best friend, someone she’d known all her life, someone she trusted.
Someone she could very easily come to love.
Perhaps this afternoon was a mistake. Now that she knew what it felt like to fall for someone, settling down with a prince would be that much more difficult.
“Aye, Swan,” Killian answered after a pause, and a long swig of ale. “That he did. My father was a fugitive from the law, a right bastard, and he chose to sell his sons for a rowboat in order to evade capture.”
Emma placed her hand comfortingly on his. “I’m so sorry, Killian. I can’t even imagine…”
He shrugged, a sad smile on his lips. “It would be a lie to say it wasn’t difficult, but I had Liam, which is a far sight more than some lads had.”
“And if you were a slave to this Captain Silver, how did you come to be in the Royal Navy?”
Killian’s brow furrowed. “Silver sent us into a storm, after a jewel of great price. It was utter madness, suicide. The ship went down and all souls on board were lost. All souls, that is, but Liam and myself.”
“How did you survive when everyone else perished?” Emma asked, leaning forward, fascinated with the story.
“That is the question,” Killian answered contemplatively. “I’ve asked Liam many times how we were the sole survivors, but when I ask….when I ask, he gets troubled, brushes it off and mumbles something about how he’ll always protect me. At any rate, we washed up on shore, providentially on the same shore a contingent of Camelot’s naval officers had docked.”
“And they saved you? Took you into the navy?”
“Aye…” Killian said, drawing out the word, “but not initially. They took us on board only after Liam revealed that in the midst of the chaos of the maelstrom, he’d recovered the jewel of great price that no sailor had ever yet obtained. In essence, Liam bought our way into the navy.”
“And you worked your way up the chain of command until you became Lieutenant and Captain?” Emma asked.
Killian glanced aside, and Emma noticed the evasion in his posture. Somehow, her question made him uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry, Killian,” Emma said hesitantly. “You needn’t answer that if you don’t wish….”
He turned back to her, smiling gently, before reaching over to catch her hand in his, bringing it to his lips for a soft, almost reverent kiss. “I do wish to tell you, Swan.”
Emma felt the familiar swoop in her stomach she’d been experiencing all afternoon. The way he’d kissed her hand…it was so romantic, so intimate. He must have seen something in her eyes; his darkened in response, and for one bright, rose-colored moment she thought he would lean across the narrow table between them and kiss her properly.
But then the barmaid returned to their table to clear away their empty dishes, and the moment was lost.
“To answer your question,” Killian said, after a small shake of his head and a little, nervous chuckle, “no, we did not work our way up. Fortune, it would seem was not finished smiling upon us.”
“Oh? What happened?”
“A…” he hesitated, looking uncomfortable once more. “A man of…great influence…took notice of us when we returned to Camelot, and he became somewhat of a benefactor, making Liam and myself not only officers on the Jewel, but his own heirs.”
“A second father.”
The conversation continued to flow, on and on, until Emma suddenly noticed the tavern, which had been nearly empty when they’d first arrived, was now full of noisy, boisterous people.
“It seems the dinner crowd has arrived, love,” Killian said, looking around in surprise.
Emma’s eyes grew wide. The dinner crowd? Had they really passed the better part of an afternoon together already? It felt as though they’d only just arrived at the tavern.
Emma felt a new swoop in her stomach, this one decidedly unpleasant. If it was time for the dinner crowd to arrive she must return to the castle. With all haste.
She got quickly to her feet, feeling more reluctance to part from the handsome lieutenant than she’d have believed possible. “Thank you, Killian,” she said, her voice not quite steady. “This afternoon was…it was perfect. I’ll never forget it, but I’m afraid I must return to my home.”
Killian got to his feet as she did, and the look in his eyes made it clear that he was as reluctant to say goodbye as she was. “Allow me to walk you home, love,” he requested.
She shook her head slowly. “I…I can’t, Killian. I’m so sorry. If I had my choice….but I don’t. I’m afraid this must be goodbye.”
He wanted to argue, she could see it in the stormy set of his eyes, but he didn’t. He took a small step back, nodding to her. “I’ll treasure this afternoon for all my days, Swan.”
Emma didn’t know what came over her. Perhaps it was the longing in his eyes. Perhaps it was her reluctance to return home, return to the ball that would change her fate. Perhaps it was the terrible realization that after they parted, she’d never see Lieutenant Killian Jones again. Whatever the reason, Emma found herself stepping forward, invading his space.
She looped her arms around his neck, stood on her tiptoes, and brought her lips to his.
Killian gasped at the unexpected embrace, but quickly regained his composure. His strong arms came around her waist, drawing her to him, his soft lips moved above hers, kissing her back as enthusiastically as she kissed him. On and on it went, waves and waves of desire, of want, maybe even of love crashing over her as tears stung the back of her eyes.
How could she ever walk away from this man?
Emma had no idea how long the kiss would have continued, how passionate it would have become, if they’d even be able to stop now that they’d started, but a loud wolf-whistle from one of the tavern’s other patrons suddenly brought her back to herself, and she reluctantly pulled her lips free from Killian’s breathing hard, letting her forehead rest against his for a moment as she regained her composure.
Finally she took a step away, seeing that Killian looked as utterly wrecked as she felt. “I…I must go,” she whispered, her voice threatening to crack on the final word.
“Farewell, love,” he said, and she saw him gently, reverently touch his lips, just before she turned, walking quickly away from him, barely making it out of the tavern before the tears began to flow.
She must return to the castle, to her fate, but it suddenly felt as though she were leaving her heart behind in that tavern.
--I’m sorry...sort of, hehe! I promise this is not the end. (Although a tiny, evil part of me kind wants to leave it there, the ultimate angsty ending.)
Emma laid back in the bath, resting her head against the smooth, porcelain edge. She closed her eyes, focusing on the warm, lavender scented water, trying to draw comfort and strength.
What a day it had been! From the low of waking to realize today was the day of the ball where she was expected to find a husband to the high of meeting Killian and spending the day with him, all the way back to the lowest of lows as she prepared for the ball with a freshly broken heart.
Perhaps it had been foolish to run away from the castle. Perhaps it had been foolish to allow herself the day with the handsome lieutenant who had stolen her heart. Perhaps she would have done better to simply stay home.
But, so help her, she couldn’t regret meeting Killian. Even if all she had of true romantic happiness was the memory of his smile, of his kiss, of one bright, shining, perfect day, she’d treasure it forever. Perhaps the knowledge that there was such a man as Killian out there would help her through the long, dreary years of being saddled with a dull, uninspiring prince.
Emma sat up and reached for the soap, gritting her teeth against the tears the lay just below the surface. There was no sense in putting it off anymore. She’d be the kind, gracious princess and do her duty by the kingdom if it killed her.
Stepping from the tub, she donned her white ball gown with the long belled sleeves and then sat before the fire to dry her hair.
Snow White sat on her throne in the large great hall of the castle, watching as lords and ladies, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses twirled around the dance floor. It was a lively group, the women in gorgeous, colorful dresses, the men dressed in their finest breeches and doublets.
Normally an event such as this would fill her with joy and excitement, even more so in the last two and a half decades that she’d been married to the man seated beside her, her best friend, her true love, her soulmate, the other half of her very heart. Every day she spent with David was a gift that she held within her heart.
But tonight…tonight the music and dancing failed to move her. Tonight she was troubled.
“David,” she said, reaching over to take her husband’s hand, lacing their fingers, “did we do the right thing?”
David turned to look at her quizzically, the fine wrinkles around his eyes, one of the only signs of his advancing years, standing out in stark display. “Did we do the right thing about what?”
“This ball,” Snow said, gesturing to the glittering assembly with her free hand. “Did we do the right thing taking the council’s suggestion that we forge a marriage alliance for Emma? All I’ve ever wanted for her is the kind of love and happiness we have with each other. What are we doing asking her to marry just to, in essence, cement a business deal?”
David sighed, squeezing her hand comfortingly. “I don’t know, Snow. Is she really that unhappy?”
Snow was silent for a moment, deep in thought. Finally she turned tortured green eyes toward her husband. “Before today, I would say she was wary at the thought of what this ball represented, but ultimately resigned. Certainly not the frame of mind I’d hoped our daughter would be in when considering the prospect of marriage, but it is the way our world works. But today…”
“What about today?” David asked, the frown settling more firmly on his face.
“Today when I helped her finish preparing for the ball, she seemed almost…heartbroken,” Snow answered, feeling the emotion rise up in her chest. “I don’t know what happened this afternoon, but whatever it was left her devastated at the prospect of meeting the princes vying for her hand tonight.”
“She told you that?” David asked.
Snow shook her head. “Of course not. You know how much she loves this kingdom. You know she would do anything for it. I told her we would support her, no matter what happened tonight. I told her we’d never force her to marry a man she didn’t choose, but she was adamant. She insists she will do her duty by the kingdom. She will make us proud.”
David turned to search the dancefloor, stopping when he caught sight of Emma dancing stiffly with Prince Neal, her face neutral, but her eyes tragic. “I suppose all we can hope, honey, is that one of these princes will prove to be Emma’s True Love, and if not? If not, we cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“Did you know that there are currently two hundred sixty-four known species of monkeys?” Prince Walsh asked. “Capuchins are my favorite. Did you know they’re nearly as smart as humans?”
It took every ounce of Emma’s training in deportment to stop the eyeroll that was trying desperately to happen. Seriously, this man had been droning on and on about monkeys since the moment he was introduced to her a quarter of an hour ago.
“That’s…fascinating,” Emma said, plastic smile draped across her face as he twirled her and then settled his hand on her waist for the remainder of the dance. “What else are you interested in besides monkeys?”
Prince Walsh gave her a quizzical look. “What else is there? I hope one day to move to the jungle and live with my own tribe of monkeys. Did you know that a group of monkeys is called a tribe, troop or mission?”
No, but I know I’d rather chew off my own arm than marry you.
An hour into the ball, and she’d yet to find any man who seemed even remotely suitable as a candidate for her future husband. Oh they weren’t all bad, to be sure. Prince Neal had been…mediocre…and Prince August was handsome. She rather liked Prince Graham, he was kind, funny in an endearing way and quite pleasant to look at, but she couldn’t see him as her husband. As her friend, yes, but as her husband and lover? No.
She had a sinking feeling no prince here—or anywhere else in the realm--would interest her, not after she’d gotten a taste of what real love could be.
Emma sighted, as the song ended and she could finally step away from Walsh without looking unbearably rude. Perhaps she ought to settle on Prince Graham. It wouldn’t be a true love connection, but at least...
“Emma?” she looked up at her father’s voice, “I’d like to introduce you to one last prince.”
Emma nodded her head regally, waiting for her father to introduce her to the man standing beside him. She’d like this one, she knew it, if only because her father had called him the last prince she must meet.
King David stepped aside, and for the first time she got a good look at the prince. Her mouth dropped and her eyes widened. It couldn’t be! It was…
“Prince Killian Jones of Camelot, I would like you to meet my daughter, Princess Emma of Misthaven.”
--So there you have it. The last “cliff hanger” of this little story. Had you already figured out that Killian was going to be one of the princes at the ball, or did it shock you as much as it shocked Emma?
Killian stood rooted to the floor, finger tips pressed reverently to his lips, heart pounding, stomach swooping as he watched the most fascinating woman he’d ever met walk out of the tavern and out of his life forever after giving him the most earth shattering kiss of his life.
An old man, leaning heavily on a cane stepped up to him, clapped him on the shoulder with surprising strength, and grinned. “Hold on to that one, me boy,” he said. “It’s not every day a lad finds a love like that.”
Killian looked down at the man, and suddenly the spell was broken. His heart sank as he remembered why he was in port, what he was here to do. He shook his head sadly. “I’m afraid it’s not so simple, old man,” Killian said. “There are complications…”
“Hang complications,” the man said. “Are any of your complications really so important you’ll let the love of your life simply walk away from you?”
“You don’t understand…”
“Maybe so, maybe not,” the man said contemplatively, “but if I were you, I wouldn’t let that sweet lass out of my life. Not without a fight.”
Feeling the weight of responsibility settle upon him like a cloak, Killian closed his eyes and sighed. “Would that I could.”
Killian placed a doubloon on the countertop to settle his tab, and then walked slowly toward the ship, wondering if this whole bloody afternoon had been a mistake. Why was it his lot to meet Swan on this day? Why must he meet her when he wasn’t free to pursue her? When he may quite quickly have to pledge his life to another?
“You’re preparing for a ball, little brother, not your execution,” Liam said as Killian stepped into the captain’s quarters to retrieve his dress uniform in preparation for the ball. “Why so morose?”
Killian looked up at his brother, eyes haunted. “I know I must do this, Liam,” he said, “but suddenly it feels as though my execution might be preferable.”
And with short, concise sentences, Killian recounted everything that had happened to him that afternoon. When he finished, he looked up at Liam, shocked to find that his brother was grinning widely.
“This is fabulous, brother,” Liam said.
Killian’s brow furrowed. “Fabulous? Bloody hell, Liam! Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
“What I heard, Killian, is that you found the love of your life, your soulmate,” Liam said, “and so the solution is simple.”
“Aye. Go after her, this elusive Swan of yours. You both deserve to find your true happiness.”
Killian frowned. “But the ball…my responsibilities…”
“Hang your responsibilities,” Liam said, and Killian looked over at him in wonder. When had his straight-laced brother ever suggested either of them put a toe out of line?
“Hang your responsibilities,” Liam said again, slowly, deliberately. “There are other ways to forge alliances with Misthaven, but if you don’t fight for True Love, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. A man unwilling to fight for what he wants, deserves what he gets.”
Three hours later, Killian found himself trudging up the steps of the magnificent castle, dressed to the nines but feeling like his heart had been ripped from his chest.
Liam had given him hope. Hope and a firm resolve. He must find Swan. He must fight for her, pursue every avenue he could until the lady herself told him his advances were not wanted.
And so he’d set out from the Jolly to find the elusive woman who had so thoroughly captured his heart in the space of a single afternoon. He’d begun his search on the docks where he’d first found her, moved on to the tavern where they’d dined together, searched the nearby village, asked every sailor, peasant and villager he could find if they could point him in the direction of Swan.
He’d come up empty. No one had seen her; no one knew her; she was nowhere to be found. It was as though she’d disappeared into thin air.
Finally after hours of searching, he’d returned to the Jolly, heart heavy and tears stinging the backs of his eyes. He’d tried his best, done all in his power to find her, but it seemed Swan did not wish to be found. There was no excuse to put off the inevitable anymore. If his heart’s desire was not attainable, he must do his duty.
So here he stood, his brother at his side, while a short majordomo with a bald head, a full beard and an impressive scowl glared grumpily up at them. “You’re late.”
“Apologies,” Liam said. “We were detained, but there really is no need to behave with such churlishness.”
“I’m not churlish,” the man said. “I’m Grumpy. Now stand at the top of the stairs and let me announce you.”
“As you wish.”
Grumpy banged a long stick against the floor. “Prince Liam Jones of Camelot. Prince Killian Jones of Camelot.”
A few curious nobles looked their direction, but for the most part, the assembly went on with their dancing and feasting as before, the arrival of a pair of princes being no longer an item of note.
Killian wandered to the refreshment table and retrieved a small glass of punch, thanking the servant who’d poured it for him and watching in fascination as she giggled and blushed.
“Prince Killian, is it?” said a man behind him, and Killian turned to find himself face to face with a man who could be none other than King David of Misthaven. He wore a magnificent crown on his graying head and all the finery one would expect from royalty.
Killian bowed profoundly. “Aye. It’s an honor to make your acquaintance, your majesty.”
David looked at him assessingly for a moment and then grinned. “You’re not any more comfortable with all this royal pomp and circumstance than I am are you?”
Killian grinned back, feeling suddenly at ease. “I must admit, I’m not. I came to my prince status through a rather unconventional path.”
“I can tell you from experience,” King David said, “as someone who was once nothing but a lowly shepherd, it gets easier, but the unease never quite goes away. I always feel a bit like an impostor.”
“Precisely,” Killian said.
“I assume you’re here to vie for my daughter’s hand?” David asked.
“Aye. King Arthur is most interested in shoring up diplomatic ties. It would be my honor to meet Princess Emma.”
“Come on then,” David said. “From the look on my daughter’s face, she’d like nothing better than to be rescued from the bore she’s currently dancing with.”
Killian dutifully followed after the king looking around with curiosity for the princess he was to woo. King David finally stopped before a dancing couple, tapping the shoulder of a woman with long, luscious blonde curls.
She turned, and Killian felt his heart slam against his ribcage. It was her!
He barely heard the king’s words as he made the formal introduction.
“Swan!” he breathed after a moment of silence.
She stepped up to him, her eyes wide, an inscrutable look on her face. She was silent for a moment, still, and then suddenly she balled her dainty hand into a fist and punched him so hard he fell crashing to the ground. Then, turning on her heel, she charged out of the ballroom and onto the balcony on the far side of the room.
Emma flexed her hand and shook it as she rushed out of the ballroom, the pain a welcome distraction from the hurt and humiliation of discovering just how stupid and naïve she had been.
Prince Killian Jones of Camelot.
He’d been playing her the entire time. He’d made up a sob story about having a terrible childhood just to draw her in and make her fall for him. The worst part was, she’d thought he’d been interested in her. Her, not her title, not her riches, not her crown, just her, just Emma. But in the end he’d been just like every other man she’d ever known.
How could she have been so gullible? She knew she was a sheltered princess, but she liked to think she was a shrewd judge of character. She liked to think she had a “superpower” that let her tell when people were lying to her, but she’d fallen for all Killian’s charming lies.
Emma leaned over the balcony, letting the cool evening breeze dry the tear tracks from her face. Why was she crying? “Lieutenant” Killian Jones wasn’t worth it! He wasn’t worth her tears! He wasn’t worth anything.
Are you sure you have the whole story? Her inner voice wondered. Are you sure you were wrong about him? Maybe there’s another explanation.
Emma shook her head and grimaced. There was that ever present hope her mom had been trying to instill in her from the time she was an infant. Sadly, hope was just an illusion, a pretty fairy tale. The real world was a far different place.
She ought to go back into the ball, confront Prince Killian and tell him…well, she didn’t even know what she’d tell him, but he deserved some sort of comeuppance! Maybe she’d say…
Emma whirled at the sound of his voice, shocked at how gentle and tentative he sounded. He looked so lost, so confused, the skin surrounding his eye already starting to bruise where she’d punched him.
“Save it, Jones,” she growled. “You can drop the act now.”
“Pardon? What act, love?” His brow furrowed. This one was a consummate actor, she’d give him that. He genuinely looked like he had no idea what she was talking about.
“I am not your love!” she hissed, marching up to him, her hands balling into fists, itching to plant themselves in his stupid face once again. “And I told you you can drop it! All that crap about being an orphan and having a terrible childhood and being sold into slavery. Was it all a game to you? Find the stupid, spoiled princess, make her feel sorry for you, and then come sweep her off her feet at the ball so that you could get your hands on her crown? I bet you went back to your ship after our noon meal and laughed yourself silly about how gullible I was. Then, what? You come late to the ball to make your grand entrance? Make me, fall at your feet?”
“Swan, I didn’t…”
“I’m not finished!” she yelled so loudly that a few couples inside the ballroom turned startled eyes towards them, despite the balcony’s closed French doors. “What, did you hire those two goons too? Rough up the princess so you could sweep in like a knight in shining armor?”
Killian’s mouth tightened, and he took a firm step toward her. “How dare you accuse me of such a thing! I am a man of honor; a man with a code. I would never exhibit such bad form toward a lady!”
Emma dropped her eyes, feeling a bit foolish. Perhaps that accusation was a bit below the belt. “I’m sorry…”
“Apology accepted,” he said much more gently. “Now if you’re finished laying accusations at my feet, might I be permitted to speak?”
She nodded, looking back into his eyes, determined to spot his lie if he told one.
“Swan…Princess…Emma,” he began, cleared his throat again. “I assure you I had no idea who you were when we met this afternoon.”
“You really expect me to believe…”
He stopped her with a raised hand. “I heard you out, now will you give me the same courtesy?”
She nodded reluctantly.
“Splendid,” he continued. “I swear to you I thought you were simply a peasant woman from the village. How could I know differently? Swan, everything I said to you, everything we shared this afternoon was entirely genuine, entirely the truth.”
“But how could your words be the truth if you’re a prince?”
Killian grimaced, shifting his eyes to the side and absently playing with a weed growing in a crack in the wall. “I told you my brother and I were taken in by a benefactor after our shipwreck. What I failed to tell you was that benefactor was King Arthur of Camelot. He and his wife, Guinevere were never blessed with children of their own, so he decided to appoint Liam and myself as his heirs.”
“Oh,” Emma said in a small voice, seeing and hearing his absolute sincerity.
“It’s alright, Swan,” Killian said, smiling gently at her. “I will admit, though I told you the truth, I did conceal an important bit of information, just as you did, love.”
“But why, Killian? Why conceal your true identity?”
“I’d wager for the same reason you wished to present yourself as a mere peasant woman going by the name Swan,” Killian said. “I…I found myself captivated by you, and I wished you to get to know me, not the prince, just Killian.”
Emma looked intently into his eyes, looking for the lie, looking for the deception, looking for the hint of disingenuousness. She didn’t find it, only aching sincerity.
“And about my late arrival,” he continued. “My apologies. The truth is, it took me less than an hour to decide I wasn’t willing to let you go without a fight. The connection I felt to you…it took me by surprise and captivated me entirely. You are a beautiful woman, Emma, with a beauty that shines far beyond the physical. Your wit, your courage, your intelligence…I felt as though I’d found a kindred spirit, someone I could come to care for, to perhaps even love. And so I spent the afternoon looking for you.”
“Aye,” he said with a decisive nod. “It was only when I’d exhausted all my options that I came to the ball.”
“Why did you stop looking for me?” Emma asked softly, taking a step nearer to him, and reaching out to put a hand on his arm.
“Because I strive to be a gentleman,” he said simply. “I could only surmise that if you made it so very difficult to find you, the only explanation is that you didn’t wish to be found. Difficult as it might be, I will not disregard the wishes of a woman.”
Emma felt her stomach swoop and her heart begin to race at the look in his eyes. She’d misjudged him, jumped to an entirely wrong conclusion. This man was everything she’d believed him to be in that tavern. Everything and more. Perhaps…perhaps there was a future for them after all.
Emma got to her tiptoes, curled a hand around the back of his head, and brought his lips down to meet hers.
“Swan,” he whispered, as his arms came around her waist, as he pulled her close, as he lost himself in their kiss.
It was a long, slow gentle embrace, an apology, an acceptance, an acknowledgement of the real, deep, overwhelming feelings between them already, after no more than an afternoon together. Emma felt the tears gather in her eyes, as the kiss continued, and Killian slowly deepened it. She let the tears flow down her cheeks, utterly overwhelmed.
Finally, Killian pulled back with a tiny groan, his eyes still closed, his forehead against hers. “That was…”
“Hopefully something that will repeated many, many times,” Emma said, her voice husky and a little breathless.
He chuckled, and she could feel the vibrations against his chest where she’d placed her hand. “I dearly, dearly hope so, my love.”
Killian leaned in again, kissed her lips gently, before kissing his way across her jaw. “What does this mean for us, Emma?” he whispered in her ear.
“I…I don’t know.” Truthfully, with him kissing her like that, she was having trouble remembering her own name. “I have to pick a suitor tonight, you know.”
“Aye,” he answered, pulling back to look in her eyes. Emma was surprised to see the nervousness, the almost fear on his face as he screwed up his courage to ask her his next question. “Would…would you consider my bid for your hand?”
Emma’s heart stuttered and then raced. For the first time since the council’s decision that she should wed, she actually saw a potentially happy future for herself. A future with the man in front of her. She nodded, her smile blooming at the absolute joy in his eyes at her response. “I…I think I’d like that. But Killian…”
His brows furrowed at her tentative words. “What is it love?”
“I…I’m not sure I’m ready for marriage yet,” she said. “I think there may be something real and true between us, but I don’t want to rush into marriage until I know for sure.”
He smiled gently at her, reaching a tender hand to her cheek to swipe away her tears. “Nor should we rush into this. If it’s love, true love, that we feel for each other, we’ve all the time in the world to build our lives together. I propose a middle ground. Perhaps we become betrothed tonight. I formally request your hand. Then you’ve fulfilled your duty and appeased the council. We can remain betrothed for as long as you wish—a year, two years, twenty years if it’s what you need—during which time I court you properly. What say you?”
Emma grabbed the lapels of his military coat and brought him down for another long, slow kiss.
“I say yes,” she answered when they parted. “Absolutely yes.”
That night Emma and Killian danced the night away, hardly even seeing anyone else in the room, and when the ball came to a close, Killian formally requested Princess Emma of Mistahaven’s hand in marriage.
After making sure this was indeed what their daughter wanted, Snow White and Prince Charming joyfully gave the couple their blessing.
One year later, Emma and Killian found themselves once more dancing in the magnificent ballroom of the Castle of Misthaven. This time as husband and wife.
And they lived, of course, happily ever afterwards.